Saturday, June 26, 2010

When You Reach Me

A fifteen-minute layover in Philadelphia became a two-hour layover, so it is a good thing I had a book with me. A good book, a book of fiction, and a short book which was also fortunate as I could imagine finishing it and thus my potentially "wasted" hours could instead be thought of as well-spent pursuit.

The book in question is When You Reach Meby Rebecca Stead, a YA novel that has popped up in conversations a number of times recently, for its references to A Wrinkle In Time and also an article I read in The New Yorker about modern dystopian fantasy for younger readers.

This is not a "fantasy" book per se, though it does have fantastic elements. Stead is quoted in the linked piece there as having chosen to set her story of a twelve year-old girl in the late 70s because she wanted “to show a world of kids with a great deal of autonomy."

Recently I began reading my children From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler Precocious older sister, younger brother with a thing about money, conspiring the run away from home ... I must be insane. "Who gave the gun to the baby?" But I want them to have imaginations that allow them to go anywhere, even dangerous places.

That book is dated in a number of ways, what happens in it could not possibly happen today. Maybe even then the idea of hiding out for a week in the Metropolitan Museum of Art would be tricky to pull off, but I bet you could if you really set your mind to it the way Claudia does. But not today. The events of When You Reach Me are at once more mundane and suspenseful than those in Ms. Konigsburg's novel. There is much more at stake for everyone involved.

I have returned to my YA play, From the Seriously Messed Up Stash of Mr. James Henke. The problem for me is that so much of the humor in that play crosses the boundaries of good taste, or has the potential to. But what was missing was a clear lack of what the characters wanted. I think that's what impressed me most about Ms. Stead's book, is how no one was perfect, but everyone was worthy of attention and respect.

My hiatus has begun. I am off work for four weeks, to dedicate to research, reading and writing. I am in New York City to see some important or relevant plays, to visit the library ... and to take a break.

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